Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Try the World: Japan

We're going to interrupt our regularly scheduled program to talk about Try the World.

Try the World is a subscription box where you get food from a different country with every box. I saw this and immediately knew that this was something I had to try.

My first box was France. It was nice and fun but different that what I was expecting. There were preserves and caramels and honey and tea. Those are great, but I can get them here. Yes, I know that they were French and therefore probably way more special, but I don't think my palate is discerning enough for that. Plus none of that really involved making food. I did get some finishing salt though, so that was kinda cool.

The next one was Japan. It was completely the opposite. There were some candies and caramels and tea, but most of the rest was so that you could cook one dish: Okonomiyaki. Basically, Japanese cabbage pancakes.

I was really excited to do this. New and different, yay!

Then things started to go wrong. Maybe that's not the best way to put it. Then things just didn't all work out.

First of all, Try the World said that you would have to buy some of the ingredients at your local Asian grocer. Fine. But they didn't say what. They gave me a recipe, but didn't tell me what ingredients were in the box and which weren't. And since the ingredients were labeled in Japanese, I couldn't interpret all of it.

Then there were two sets of instructions. Try the World sent me one in their pamphlet. But the Okonomiyaki kit also had a set of instructions. And they weren't the same. The kit one corresponded a little better to the ingredients though...

Instructions in the kit. Sorry for the orientation.
Some of the instructions that Try the World sent me.
I made the mistake of kinda trying to do both. I mostly followed the one in the kit, but I paid attention to the one that they sent me as well. There was a lot going on at once.

Anyway, I was supposed to shred a cabbage and mix it with some eggs, pancake mix, and a few other ingredients.

It ended up being a ridiculous amount of cabbage. I needed less than half of it.

I also did not cut it fine enough. We had to do this after the kids were in bed since there were fish ingredients involved, so I was kinda tired and hungry and didn't quite pull this part off. So I decided to blend it. I don't remember if this was in the instructions or not. I don't think so. Or maybe just in one of them.

Now it was a lot more batter-y!

It also came with instructions and ingredients for making a cold soba noodle salad. Soba noodles are made out of buckwheat. It came with this sauce, which actually was included in the kit!

Meanwhile, you take the batter and fry it up.

You're also supposed to add some pork. It was not entirely clear what kind of pork, but I interpreted it as bacon. Because why not?

Done frying! Now we've got a pancake and some noddle salad.

The last thing you need is the Okonomi sauce. This is apparently integral. It also didn't come in the kit.

I was also supposed to buy some Japanese mayonnaise but I decided that I couldn't justify one more thing that I would only use a tiny bit of.

The pancakes also were adorned with a few other things in the kit.

Once we got around to finally eating it was...disappointing. The texture was really awful and the actual pancake part just didn't have the greatest taste and I could barely get through a few bites. Kevin did a little better.

Neither of us liked the taste of the soba noodle salad either.

I don't blame Try the World for something I didn't like. I'm not going to like everything. But I wish the instructions had been clearer an I knew what I needed to buy. I also had to drive pretty far to get to a good Japanese store so that was kinda unfortunate.

Oddly enough, I was listening to my World News podcast today (yes I am several months behind) and they did a story on Okonomiyaki. Crazy! Apparently a lot of people don't like it the first time. So maybe if I get a chance to eat a real one, professionally made, I will be changing my tune.

The box did come with some yummy caramels and delicious peach candy though, so that was pretty awesome.

Overall, we did not stick with Try the World. Maybe someday when I have more time to interpret things and when they've figured it all out. But for now it was not worth the money for us. We gave all of our leftover Japanese stuff to a friend, since a lot of it had some amount of fish in it.

Next time we'll be back to our regularly scheduled program.

Sunday, April 24, 2016


Indonesia is an archipelago in Southeast Asia. It is the third most populous democracy in the world and the largest majority-Muslim nation. It is the 15th largest country by area, which makes it less than three times the size of Texas. It consists of over 17,000 islands, about 6000 of which are inhabited. Over 255 million people live there, making it the 5th most populous country in the world. The capital, Jakarta, is located on the island of Java. With over 145 million people, it is the most populous island in the world.

Read more at the CIA World Factbook and, of course, Wikipedia.

I know it has been a long time, but in case you have forgotten, I actually own a Southeast Asian cookbook. I have only gotten to use it once before, for Cambodia, with some great results.

In reviewing entries to try to figure out if I had used the book for more than that I realized that we haven't done many Asia countries recently. That will certainly be changing here soon!

Even with the book, though, it was hard to find a recipe we could do. Not surprisingly, almost everything involved fish. Fish as protein, fish sauce, fish accents. Brendan's allergy made that a no-go, so our options were limited.

We were also having some friends from Church over, so we had to be able to cook for a crowd.

I picked "Extraordinary Beef Satay" and "Indonesian Grilled Chicken." Getting the ingredients was more of an adventure than I had bargained for. I asked Chad, one of our guests, where I should look for ingredients. He suggested an Asian food store about 30 minutes away. I went and found a lot of things I had been looking for for other recipes, but not Indonesian stuff. I didn't find lemongrass, Asian basil, pandanus leaves, sweet soy sauce, red finger-length chilies, OR kaffir limes. I did find bamboo skewers and sesame oil though, so close enough, right? We trekked on with substitutions, but I would not dare say it ended up authentic.

Also, the day we were doing this I realized I was out of brown sugar. I was seeing a friend at the library, so she brought me some. Exchanging powder in baggies in public places? Thanks, Carrie!

This was our marinade for the beef satay. Soy sauce with brown sugar instead of sweet soy sauce. Lemon rind instead of kaffir lime. At least these were both substitutions sanctioned by the book!

That marinated for a few hours while I started the chicken.

I had to make a seasoning paste. I used green chilies instead of red and red onion instead of shallots (I couldn't find any!) Seeing as there were only four total ingredients, we were only 50% on track.

Amelia was on nap strike that day, so Kevin was on get-her-to-sleep duty. He modeled the ideal behavior.

That paste was stir-fried with lemongrass, Asian basil, pandanus leaves, sweet soy sauce, and tomatoes. Out of all of those ingredients, the only one I really had was tomatoes. Ouch.

The book suggested I look for pananus extract, which was nowhere to be found either. The substitution I found online was vanilla plus green food coloring. Seriously. Apparently it has a slightly sweet flavor and a very bright green color.

The chicken got simmered in this not-even-close-to-Indonesian concoction. I didn't have a cover for my wok so I used a pizza pan. I'm sure it was authentic.

It came out looking kinda ghastly green.

Kevin and Chad grilled the beef. I believe it was February but actually warm enough! Jennifer and I watched the kids be kinda weirded out by the green chicken.

Then they also grilled the chicken. Even though it was already cooked through, this dish gets grilled to give it a nice crispy finish.

I somehow didn't get a picture of it, but that white container contained Indonesian fried rice that Chad made. He even found a recipe that didn't involve fish! It came with a few different toppings to go on it.

The beef satay was really really good. The marinade brought out some great flavors in the meat. It didn't get cooked for a long time, so the sesame oil still had a great flavor and overall the combination was excellent. They cooked it just the right amount of time so that it was still a bit red in the middle too.

The rice was good too. Definitely different than Chinese fried rice. It seemed maybe a little more dry and crunchy? But rice mixed with veggies and flavors is generally a hit.

The green chicken was...fine. For all of the work with preparing the marinade, it didn't really have a lot of flavor. Seeing as over half of the ingredients were substituted, though, I don't think I can really blame the recipe. It wasn't bad, just not that exciting. Our kids ate it, but Jennifer and Chad's are slightly older and didn't really feel comfortable eating green chicken.

We liked the cooking method though. Having it already cooked and then grilling the skin gave it a nice crisp without drying it out. That is definitely a tip I could take away from this.

So Indonesia was a mixed bad in no small part because I couldn't find the right ingredients. Maybe next time I'll try a different Asian grocery store. Also, I'm not sure we could ever travel to somewhere like Indonesia with Brendan's allergy. Yikes.

Next time: Iran

Friday, April 1, 2016

India the Third

For India the Third we mix things up a bit. This is a Northern India recipe that comes to me via my former boss in Virginia. She's actually from Pittsburgh, but we will still take her word on authentic Indian cuisine. :-)
We may have gotten a little excited about Christmas and I have relatively few pictures of just Joey...
Not only that, but we were in Colorado! Nothing better than trying out a new curry recipe on the in-laws, right?
Kevin prepped by sharpening some knives.
First note: make sure you actually use a Dutch oven, or something that is intended to go on the stove top, not actually in the oven. It is very important.

Anyway! Cumin seeds and cinnamon sticks? Not the way I'm used to starting a heavily-spiced dish, so let's try it! And of course onions. Always onions.

I read in one of the comments to mix the chicken and yogurt and some spices ahead of time to enhance the flavor, but I can't find it for the life of me now. That's what I did though.

The girls enjoyed a snack while mama had to make dinner instead of entertaining them. So unreasonable!

The nephew did not approve of my chopping technique.

I used a little mini food-processor/spice grinder instead of a mortar and pestle. The next few parts all went pretty fast and furious, so there aren't many pictures. I caught up again when the chicken/yogurt mixture got added to the onions, tomato paste, and spices.

Then that just cooks for a while! There's really not a ton to it, just a lot a lot a lot of chopping.

Serve over rice or naan!
This was pretty good. Definitely not what I have come to expect from a curry. More sweet than spicy. Now, I did not add the extra cayenne pepper because I was worried about the spiciness of the fresh peppers. However, those didn't end up having much of a kick, so that toned it down a lot. I think a little bit of extra spice would really up the complexity.

We're a pretty spice-happy family, so I think that is what I would change if I were to cook it again. More spice, less sweet. But it was certainly a nice change of pace and pretty yummy, especially if you don't like spicy but want to try some curry.

And then our India adventure comes to an end. It was fun, but we have to move on if we are going to actually make any progress.

Next time: Indonesia

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

India the Second

This is another recipe from Sadie, and therefore from the Kerala region. We went the vegetarian route this time and picked Aloo Gobi, a cauliflower dish. According to the description this food is in Bend it Like Beckham? I don't remember that particular scene but I now have some high school religion class memories coming back...

It said to cut the cauliflower into eighths, which still made some pretty big chunks. Eight of them, in fact. I think this part may have either been lost in translation or I had an abnormally large head of cauliflower.

I also apparently didn't take pictures during the process? As always, it started by sauteeing some onions. Then more coriander (but really cilantro), turmeric, and other spices. Seeing any similarities from last time?

There were also potatoes in addition to the cauliflower to get coated in the curry sauce. It called for Garam Masala as well and more cilantro added at the end. I'm seeing lots of trends.

Completed dish: very colorful.

The pieces of cauliflower that ended up breaking apart and therefore actually getting spices all over them were really yummy. That part worked really well. But the giant eighth-of-a-head ones? Not so much. Most of it was just plain cauliflower and not even perfectly cooked or anything.

The girls loved it though.

Emily likes eating Indian food and markers.
Amelia says cheeeeeeeeese.
I think this recipe is worth trying, just cut up your cauliflower more thoroughly. It had a decent kick but wasn't overwhelming by any stretch. A little bit closer to Indian food I have had here in the states, but still different enough to make it a good thing to try.

One more stop in India before I made myself move on!

Next time: India the Third

Saturday, February 13, 2016


Colorful Fishing Trawlers
Picture from the state of Kerala, India courtesy of user Thangaraj Kumaravel on Flickr.

India has an incredibly long and rich history which I could not do justice in this blog. Suffice to say there are a lot of influences in India and it influences the world. It is in Southern Asia and is the seventh biggest country in the world. It is slightly more than a third the size of the US. The World Factbook lists at least 13 spoken languages. It has the second highest population in the world at over 1.2 billion. Read more!

India is a country I've been looking forward to since starting this journey. I had some grand plans. Different recipes from different parts of the country! Sharing food with friends! Finding some amazing curries!

I got some of this done. I did multiple Indian recipes, but not necessarily from widely varying areas. Instead I asked some people I know that either lived in India for a while or had Indian ties to send me some recipes and I tries some of those. I would love to do more later but I eventually realized I had to move on or I would never get past it. So these definitely aren't representative of the whole country, but it's a start.

First up was Chicken Biryani suggested by my friend Sadie. She said she ate this in Kerala, a southern Indian state on the coast.
Rice from India. Good start.
Right from the start I didn't have curry paste. I had curry powder. I added water to it. Correct? I don't really know.

Also, cooking with kids is sometimes a bit difficult. The solution is to strap them to you!

Anyway, this recipe had a fairly standard beginning. Fry some onion and spices in butter. Was this the first thing people learned how to cook? Because it seriously seems to be global.

Okay! Turmeric, chicken, and curry paste as a go. This one really ended up being pretty easy.

Sadie sent me a recipe for homemade bread, but we just used some naan from Costco. This stuff is seriously amazing.

I got a little worried when it wanted me to add the rice and raisins but then only cook for five minutes plus ten minutes of sitting off of the heat. What kind of rice cooks that quickly?

Apparently basmati. Other recipes we found had similar cooking times. Amazing! I still have some leftover from that bag, but I'll have to see when I need some more quick rice.

This time I realized that coriander meant cilantro and actually put in the right stuff.

We ignored the almonds because I wanted Kevin to eat it.

Everyone liked this one. The girls devoured it. Definitely a nice solid dish. It wasn't what I would generally consider "Indian" but again that is like saying jambalaya isn't American because all you've had are burgers. A little bit sweeter than I was used to and a little bit less saucy. There wasn't much that was spicy in there and there was no yogurt, so that accounts for a lot of it.

Pretty solid start to India. We're not done!

Next time: India the Second